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Agriculture - Fisheries - Food

3. Food safety

Issues

  • Securing the food chain (traceability from farm to fork)
  • Concerns over pesticide use
  • Ongoing GM food debate
  • Future life science applications for plants (e.g. plant farming)
  • Is product labelling sufficient?
  • Rising rates of obesity, particularly among children

Food policy covers a range of issues, including food security and quality, the environment, agriculture and fisheries, consumer awareness, research and development (including genetically modified organisms), as well as legal and economic aspects, such as pricing and packaging. As such, it does not come under the remit of one single department within the European Commission.

The Union is sensitive to the public’s concerns over food safety and security following heavily reported food scares, notably ‘mad cow disease’ (BSE) and ‘foot and mouth’ (which first came to prominence in the UK), avian flu and dioxin contamination.

A comprehensive overhaul of legislation was completed in 2002 with a new emphasis on animal feed, since feed contamination was the cause of all major food scares in recent years. Traceability requirements were introduced in 2005 and updated hygiene rules in 2006. In addition, the EU has adopted targeted legislation on a number of food safety issues, such as use of pesticides, food supplements, artificial coloring, antibiotics and hormones in food production, and products in contact with foodstuffs, such as packaging; and by stringent procedures on release, marketing, labeling and traceability of crops and foodstuffs containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In pursuing its ‘farm to fork’ policy, the Union has implemented a number of measures to keep disease and contamination out of Europe’s food supply. The guiding principle is to apply an integrated approach from farm to table covering all sectors of the food chain, including feed production, primary production, food processing, storage, transport and retail sale. The three pillars to putting these principles in practice are: legislation on safe food and animal feed, sound scientific advice on which to base decisions and proper enforcement of rules.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, provides independent, public, scientific assessments on existing and emerging risks. In the spring of 2007, for example, the European Commission asked for EFSA’s advice on the implications of animal cloning for food safety. EFSA is also involved when legislation is being drafted and gives advice when policymakers are dealing with a food scare.

To act quickly when a safety problem arises, the EU operates a rapid alert system. Every EU government has an early warning system when feed or food could be unsafe and potentially expose consumers to illnesses. It then alerts the Commission, which is the hub of an EU-wide notification system. In recent years, this system has been used when, for example, unauthorized GM maize has been detected in a member state.

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